Concern over salt levels in cheese
Cheese is unnecessarily loaded with salt, campaigners have said after new research found that the majority of cheese sold in Britain has a high salt content.
Researchers found that halloumi and imported blue cheese have the highest amount of salt while cottage cheese had the lowest.
They also found large variations in salt content among the same types of cheese. Some types of cheddar - the most popular choice among British consumers - had much higher levels of salt than others, with supermarket own brands having lower levels than branded counterparts.
The new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, examined 612 cheeses available across the UK in 2012.
Experts examined the amount of salt per 100g of cheeses available at the top seven British supermarkets.
Overall they found that salt content is high among these products, with an average of 1.7g per 100g of cheese, which prompted the researchers to call for more stringent salt reduction targets.
The authors said: "This research demonstrates that salt content in cheese in the UK is high and there is a wide variation in the salt content in different types of cheeses and even within the same type of cheese.
"These findings demonstrate that much larger reductions in the amount of salt added to cheese could be made and much more challenging targets need to be set."
They said that a having a diet high in salt has been linked to numerous adverse affects on health including high blood pressure - which increases a person's risk of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure - and an increased risk of stomach cancer and obesity.
Study co-author Dr Kawther Hashem, from Queen Mary University of London, who is also nutritionist for the campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), said: "These results provide evidence that the UK salt reduction strategy, based on a series of salt targets for different food groups, is working, but that the targets need to be much more stringent if we are to get salt intakes down to less than 6g a day (the recommended maximum).
"These big brands need to stop dragging their heels and catch up with the supermarkets now, or they will be left behind.
"It's worth looking at the label and choosing a lower salt and fat version of your favourite cheese, or better yet, to eat very small amounts.
"Children's cheeses are often marketed as 'healthy', yet can contain at least the equivalent of 75% seawater per 100g on average - these cheeses should only be given to children occasionally, or not at all."
The campaign group said some of the cheese analysed contained more salt than seawater.
It said the research shows that some cheese manufacturers are not going far enough to reduce levels of sale and putting their customers' health at risk.
CASH chairman Professor Graham MacGregor added: "Reducing salt is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce the number of people suffering and dying from stokes, heart attacks and heart failure.
"Cheese is a big contributor of salt to the UK diet and it is vital that the Department of Health forces the cheese industry to implement the new targets immediately."